MAJOR concerns about water quality sourced from private wells have been raised by the environmental watchdog after a doubling in the number of serious illnesses.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warned today that more than one in ten private wells was contaminated with e-coli last year, which can result in conditions ranging from mild gastroenteritis to severe diarrhoea and, in some cases, blood poisoning and kidney failure.
The Drinking Water Report for 2012 says a “significant portion” of private wells are contaminated, and that homeowners hoping to avoid water charges by digging a private supply could be putting their families’ health at risk.
“With the introduction of water charges, consumers may be tempted to drill private wells in an attempt to reduce costs,” it says.
“EPA analysis indicates that a significant portion of private wells are contaminated and not suitable for consumption without treatment. As such, private home owners need to be aware that if they replace their supply from the public mains with a private well, they are taking on a major responsibility of ensuring that the water is fit for purpose.
“Owners of private wells should ensure that they are designed, located, installed and maintained properly. Otherwise, they are putting their health and that of their family at risk.”
Some 82pc of the population is provided with water from 932 public supplies, of which 140 need upgrading. It is expected that 70 of these projects will be completed by the end of the year.
About 10pc are served by private wells, which are most at risk, while the remaining 8pc are served by public or private group water schemes.
“The quality of drinking water from private supplies remains inferior to that from public supplies and gives cause for concern,” EPA spokesman Ger O’Leary said. “In 2012, the HSE reported a doubling of the number of VTEC cases, which is a particularly harmful form of E. coli.
“Transmission of VTEC can be from person to person, or be waterborne or foodborne. The second most common transmission route reported by the HSE is waterborne transmission. Disinfection kills all E. coli including VTEC and, while public water supplies are disinfected, not all private wells are.”
The report says that improved monitoring and management of plants has reduced contamination in public supplies, and that high levels of rainfall last year resulted in problems.
This is because rain can wash more potential contaminants into supplies, and while public schemes had alarms and high levels of monitoring, private supplies were “more vulnerable”.